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Henley Cleared to Play in ’94 : Football: Cornerback, facing felony drug charges, reinstated by NFL. Rams might be interested in signing him.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue notified the Rams Monday that cornerback Darryl Henley, who is awaiting a Jan. 10 trial for cocaine possession and conspiring to distribute cocaine, has been reinstated for the 1994 season.

“That is true,” said John Shaw, Ram president. “I think it means he is a free agent, and I would think we would have an interest in him.”

Henley, a starting cornerback for the Rams and former UCLA player, requested a leave of absence after the fifth game last season when his legal problems became public.

The Rams paid Henley his entire $600,000 salary for the 1993 season. Because he asked for the leave of absence, he had to be cleared to play by the league.

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“We would like him back,” Coach Chuck Knox said. “If he’s cleared by the commissioner, he’s free to come back.”

The commissioner’s ruling, which came in response to Henley’s July 28 request to resume playing, was made “without prejudice,” and allows Henley to immediately join any team in the league once a contract has been signed. The commissioner reserved the right to change his ruling if “trial results are not favorable.”

The Seahawks are known to be desperate for cornerbacks, but the Rams believe they have the inside edge in working a deal with Henley. Henley has been a visitor at Rams Park several times in the last few months.

Marvin Demoff, Henley’s agent, has been in Barcelona, Spain, with the Broncos and Raiders and was unavailable for comment Monday.

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Henley, who has remained in contact with Ram coaches and spoke to Knox as recently as two weeks ago, also was unavailable.

“He’s ecstatic to be reinstated,” said Joe Vitt, Ram assistant head coach, who has talked to Henley regularly. “He’s been working out and is excited at the prospect of playing with a good football team.

“He understands he has to come back and compete for a job. With that understanding he’s looking forward to getting back in here.”

And what about his legal troubles?

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“As coaches, we have a job at hand,” Vitt said. “As a player, he has to stay focused, and if he can’t, then we have to move on. He will be personally accountable for the way he plays in practice and in the preseason games.”

Drug enforcement agents have alleged that Henley used his Brea home as a distribution point for a cross-country narcotics network. A federal grand jury indicted Henley and five others. Henley pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Tracy Donaho, a former Ram cheerleader who was also indicted, pleaded guilty and has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution.

Henley’s trial date, which has been pushed from May to August and now to Jan. 10, provided an opportunity to return to the NFL.

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“The NFL bylaws don’t supersede the Constitution,” a Ram spokesman said. “If he wanted back, there was going to be no stopping him.”


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